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Western Press Review: Russian Military Power; World Nuclear Power

  • Don Hill
  • Katarzyna Wysocka

Prague, 11 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin, preparing for heart surgery, issued yesterday an unprecedented delegation of authority over the Russian military. The action attracted widespread press commentary. Commentators also discussed the United Nations' approval yesterday of a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing.

NEW YORK TIMES: Yeltsin and his government owe Russians an orderly transfer of power

The paper says today in an editorial: "After all the dodging and deception about Boris Yeltsin's health, it is refreshing to get some candor from the Russian leader. He announced last week that he needs heart surgery and plans an operation later this month. (Yesterday) Yeltsin applied some of the same openness and decisiveness to the question of how Russia will be ruled in his absence, whether that turns out to be for a brief or extended period. But too much still remains unclear." The paper concludes: "Yeltsin and his aides should settle on a clearer, more comprehensive plan for transferring power in advance of the surgery. In a newly-democratic society, there is no more important or potentially volatile moment than a shift of power, especially when a leader is incapacitated or dies. Yeltsin and his government owe Russians no less than an orderly transfer."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: The country's mightiest institutions answer to the prime minister

In the paper today, Phil Reeves writes in a news analysis from Moscow: "Yeltsin has ordered his most powerful ministers -- including his defense, security and intelligence chiefs -- to report to his prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, while he remains out of sight preparing for heart bypass surgery. The move represents a significant, if temporary, shift of power in Russia, as the country's mightiest government institutions now are answerable to the prime minister, and are likely to remain so for some time."

WASHINGTON POST: Yeltsin's decree raises questions because the constitution is vague

Lee Hockstadter's analysis published in today's edition says: "Yeltsin's extraordinary decree seemed designed to quiet a growing chorus in Moscow that is demanding that the president make clear his intention to abide by the succession plan outlined in Russia's 1993 constitution. But Yeltsin's decision seemed to raise as many questions as it settled, largely because the constitution is vague. The constitution says the prime minister will assume the president's duties on a temporary basis if the president is incapacitated. If the president suffers from a 'sustained inability' to function because of health problems, his powers would be 'terminated' and the prime minister would take over."

The writer continues: "Yet no one can define the duration of either a president's 'temporary' or 'sustained' inability to perform his duties. Nor is it entirely clear how such a determination would be made, or by whom. It also remains to be seen whether Yeltsin will hand over the remainder of his powers to Chernomyrdin before he undergoes a coronary bypass operation on a still-unannounced date later this month."

LONDON TIMES: Chernomyrdin is in charge of running the country

In an analysis in the paper today, Thomas de Waal writes from Moscow: "Yesterday's formula appeared to be a compromise designed to forestall a potentially dangerous power struggle while Mr. Yeltsin is undergoing surgery. It effectively puts Mr. Chernomyrdin in charge of running the country."

LIBERATION: Yeltsin won't abandon control of the nuclear button during his hospitalization

Anne Chevallier comments in today's edition of the French newspaper: "Boris Yeltsin won't abandon control over the nuclear button during his hospitalization." She writes: "On the other hand, one doesn't know who will hold the nuclear suitcase during the actual hours of the surgical intervention. This question hasn't been evoked yet, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembski declared -- a surprising claim, considering that German Chancellor Helmut Kohl evoked this very question during his visit in Moscow last Saturday. Although Boris Yeltsin doesn't want to unveil publicly his intentions yet, he has clearly shown that he wants to stay in the command of the country, refusing to delegate all his powers to his prime minister, an option that the constitution makes available to him."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Yeltsin's decree appears designed to clip Lebed's wings

Alan Philips says in a news analysis from Moscow today: "(The) decree announced by the Kremlin yesterday appeared designed to clip the wings of (Yeltsin's) ambitious national security adviser, General Aleksandr Lebed, who has made clear that he wanted overall control of the defense and security portfolios."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Some of the nations most likely to test nuclear weapons do not intend to sign the pact

Concerning the nuclear test ban treaty before the United Nations, Merrill Goozner writes in an analysis today: "The comprehensive nuclear Test Ban Treaty that was overwhelmingly approved by the United Nations (yesterday) has one fatal flaw: Some of the nations most likely to engage in nuclear weapons testing in the coming decade have no intention of signing the pact. India and Pakistan, bitter rivals pursuing nuclear capability, declared that they will not accede. Neither will the rogue nation of Libya."

WASHINGTON POST: The five principal nuclear powers support the treaty

But in a news analysis today, John M. Goshko writes: "As a practical matter, the five principal nuclear powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- support the treaty (and) many legal experts say that will obligate them under international law to avoid future testing."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: It was not immediately clear whether the U.S. Senate would ratify the accord

And Art Pine writes from Washington in a news analysis published today: "The earlier refusal of the major powers to agree to end their nuclear testing had become a visible symbol to many developing countries, which had refused to go along with efforts to curb further proliferation until the larger countries agreed to halt testing." Pine says: "It was not immediately clear whether the U.S. Senate would ratify the accord. Although most Democrats favor prompt ratification, Senate Republicans appear to be split and the Republican Party's 1996 campaign platform opposes the pact as not in U.S. interests."

DIE TAGESZEITUNG: The treaty strengthens the nuclear apartheid, which the Indian government was right to criticize

An editorial today in the German newspaper says: "It is improbable that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) will be realized one day. The treaty is not 'comprehensive.' It only abolishes between the five official nuclear powers the usual test-explosions which aren't needed anymore. Yet other experiments for the development of new nuclear bombs remain allowed. The United States and France already are doing or preparing such experiments. And also in Great Britain and Russia, new nuclear weapons doctrines are discussed." The editorial says: "The CTBT doesn't contain any binding obligation for the five powers to disarm their nuclear weapons arsenals or even to negotiate it seriously. This strengthens the nuclear apartheid, which the Indian government was right to criticize."